Anesthesiology group files restraining order against Atrium Health, system's new service provider

Charlotte, N.C.-based Southeast Anesthesiology Consultants filed a temporary restraining order and injunction against Charlotte-based Atrium Health and its new anesthesiology provider in North Carolina Business Court May 11, claiming the health system and its new provider are attempting to recruit physicians from SAC.

In a May 11 statement to Becker's Hospital Review, SAC said the legal filing against Atrium Health and Charlotte-based Scope Anesthesia of North Carolina, which was founded by Thomas Wherry, MD, was "necessary given that for some time, Dr. Wherry and Atrium have been attempting to recruit physicians from Southeast, in violation of the contract Southeast has with Atrium[,] as well as contrary to statements both Atrium and Dr. Wherry have made to the press. The motion requests the judge to order the defendants to cease such solicitation immediately."

"Despite Atrium's continued attempts to impugn our practice and intent, Southeast and Mednax are proven assets to Charlotte and the surrounding region. Our 88 physicians stand ready, willing and able to continue serving patients as we have done faithfully and tirelessly since 1981," the statement reads. "Atrium Health and Southeast have built one of the highest quality anesthesia programs in the country that took years to develop and refine. We believe Atrium is destroying a highly successful program as a means to improve its bottom line, with little consideration for the potential damage it can do to the communities that it serves as the region's public hospital system."

The filing requests Atrium Health and Scope Anesthesia be prevented from recruiting SAC physicians and to ban Scope Anesthesia from providing anesthesiology services to Atrium while the litigation moves through the court system.

Atrium Health terminated its nearly 40-year contract with SAC earlier this year, claiming SAC was not willing to lower costs or introduce a new operating model to increase savings. The contract, which expires June 30, was instead awarded to Scope Anesthesia. SAC sued the health system in March, alleging Atrium Health and Scope Anesthesia stole trade secrets and used that information to poach the contract from SAC. The organization also engaged in a targeted ad campaign against Atrium in an attempt to "bully Atrium Health into reversing its decision to end its relationship with Mednax affiliate Southeast Anesthesiology Consultants, and give badly needed good news to its shareholders," according to Atrium's amended legal filing earlier this month.

Atrium Health told Becker's in an emailed statement May 14 the injunction and temporary restraining order filed by SAC and its parent company Sunrise, Fla.-based Mednax represent "another meritless legal attack" against the health system.

The full statement reads:

"Having failed all other efforts to force Atrium Health to reverse its decision to replace Mednax's Southeast Anesthesiology Consultants with our new partner, Scope Anesthesia, while also under pressure from Wall Street, Mednax has filed yet another meritless legal attack. We are confident the court will reject Mednax's frivolous request. Regardless of these last-ditch attempts by Mednax asking the court to intervene, Mednax will not be providing any anesthesia services in Atrium Health facilities past June 30, and nothing about this court filing changes that. Notably, numerous Mednax physicians have contacted Scope Anesthesia, expressing their interest to remain working at Atrium Health facilities.

"We will say, however, that Mednax is consistent: both its legal filings and its media smear campaign are lacking in truth and in basis. As one example, Mednax makes the disingenuous claim that operating room physician staffing schedules that are widely and freely distributed in and around the hospital are 'trade secrets' that have been 'misappropriated.' At the same time, Atrium Health has also been consistent in its statements: like all of our decisions, the decision to end our contract with Mednax was made because we concluded that moving forward with another provider was in the best interest of our patients.

"The loss of Mednax's contract with Atrium Health is the third significant healthcare contract the company has lost in North Carolina in the past eight months. Mednax's continued corporate struggles have recently become the subject of national media reports, with well-known investment professionals predicting that Mednax 'might be worth nothing' because of its flawed business model.

"The fear and smear campaign conducted by Mednax, the Florida-based corporation that bought Southeast Anesthesiology for $200 million in 2010, is an attempt to unjustifiably scare its patients and bully Atrium Health into entering into a new contract. Atrium Health is standing by its decision not to continue to do business with Mednax.

"When making business decisions, such as changing anesthesia services partners, our commitment to our patients, our employees and our community is unwavering. Scope Anesthesia is bringing highly qualified anesthesiologists with decades of experience from highly regarded institutions such as Johns Hopkins, Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic and Duke Health. These skilled physicians have sought opportunities with Atrium Health's new anesthesia provider so they can be part of our surgical teams and are already meeting with Atrium Health's surgical staff and certified registered nurse anesthetists to ensure a smooth transition to Scope Anesthesia on July 1.

"Atrium Health is committed more than ever to our patients and local communities. We have never compromised on quality and safety, and we never will."

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